Hele-On now fare free

June 7, 2022
Free ridership is possible thanks to funding received from CRRSAA and the American Rescue Plan Act.

Hele-On is now fare free through Dec. 31, 2023, according to an announcement from the County of  Hawaiʻi Mass Transit Agency.

Free ridership is possible due to the department receiving $4.5 million in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and $1,879,773 in American Rescue Plan Act from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) by way of the Hawai’i Department of Transportation (HDOT).

The funds are 100 percent federal with no local match necessary and are provided to help transit systems sustain their operations during the pandemic. Upon receipt of the American Rescue Plan Act funds, the fare-free initiative should extend another year to Dec. 31, 2024.   

“We are extremely excited to offer this improved, efficient and critical resource to our community at no cost,” said Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth. “There are a myriad of issues contributing to a growing cost of living, so it is our hope that providing free transportation services to our residents will help alleviate some of that burden. We understand that Hele-On has had a bad rap in the past but would like to encourage our residents to try it out; they may be pleasantly surprised.”  

With Hele-On accessible to all, equity and improved access to sustainable public transit island-wide for county residents and visitors are now in effect. Hele-On is also using the funds to cover the implementation of the new transit service network as planned in the 2018 Transit & Multi-modal Transportation Master Plan, which increased public transit access in the Hilo, KailuaKona, Waimea, Puna and Ka’u areas of the Island with later service, more frequent service and added Sunday and holiday services.

The master plan is helping the county restore creditability in its public transit system and allow it to be an integral part of connecting people to jobs, education, social service and quality of life while driving economic development. In addition, underserved communities such as Pahoa, one of the fastest-growing areas on the Island, has significant transit access with seven days a week transit service, paratransit service and additional small bus service within the many subdivisions along Highways 11 and 130.    

“Higher ridership translates into increased federal and state formula funding and creates a positive feedback loop for Hele-On to improve and grow the island’s mobility network,” said John Andoh, Mass Transit administrator and general manager.

Hawai’i County will be the first transit system to offer fare-free transit in the state of Hawai’i. Providing fare-free transit will allow those experiencing financial hardship not to worry about transportation expenses. The goal of implementing fare-free transit is also to rebuild ridership lost over the past ten years due to reliability issues of the transit system.